Sometimes, I wonder about the Muse. That often talked of mysterious being who visits creative types and bestows upon them the ability to paint masterpieces, to compose symphonies and to pen great works of literature or the next airport blockbuster.
There are those who – and I will whisper this very quietly, one can never be too sure – those who believe she does not exist. That they must drag the writing from their very soul without the help of that mystic being. Others must be inspired. They wait for some magical moment when the Muse will choose to appear and gift their magnificent opus to them, in a dream perhaps, or while waiting at the bus stop. William Faulkner famously said he could ‘only write when I am inspired. Fortunately I am inspired at 9 o’clock every morning’. Typically, I fall somewhere in the middle. Writing is hard work and sometimes damned hard work, but mostly through the revision and editing process. What I call ‘blurting’ a book out is often the easy bit.
‘Everybody has a book in them’ we are told. Well maybe they do, but it isn’t always a book we want to read and certainly not if it’s just been scribbled down and turned loose into the world as an unedited e-book. I have a Kindle and I’ve read a few. They make the blood run cold and lead me to take my criminal tendencies rather too seriously. Such writers should batter themselves over the head with their own laptops until they get the message. Any Muse that was daft enough to come upon them only did half a job.
I’m a morning pages, write-every-day kinda gal, putting in the graft, but I do believe I have to be inspired. I think. And I do my best to make sure that I am. I love to take photographs, watch people, listen in on conversations which are probably nothing to do with me. I got into trouble once in a little cafe in Malta, where I was eavesdropping. I have a wonderful ability to listen to two conversations at once (at least) and although giving my husband almost my full attention, I was deeply involved in a discussion a couple of tables away.
There was a quite famous guy: I didn’t know him, I’m hopelessly disinterested in celebrities, but I had seen posters all over the island which gave me a clue once he started talking. He was a musician and he was chatting to a wannabe. The wannabe was bragging and the more famous guy was giving him plenty of opportunity to hang himself, but chipping with little anecdotes which I relayed to my husband because they were quite funny. I’ve just realised that I shouldn’t have started this, because I can’t give you the punch line, which was hilarious, but also extremely rude. Enough to tell you that I let out a huge snort when it was uttered, almost spraying my drink across the table at my husband, whose ears are not good enough to earwig in the same way and who had no idea why I was so convulsed. We had to leave before I made it too obvious I was laughing at them. When I explained later, my husband and I were able to laugh together about it and have several times since. It’s also in my little notebook from that holiday and doubtless will crop up in some form or another in a book somewhen.
I read first thing every morning in bed whilst drinking the cup of tea my husband brings me. Yes, he is a treasure and no, you can’t borrow him. Then I scribble those morning pages before getting up, ready to face the world. My writing muscle has already had a bit of exercise and sometimes, some glorious golden times, the Muse visits during those scribbles. She brings an idea of such perfection that it is breathtaking and I say thank you nicely and whizz into the next room to attack my computer. On other occasions, she doesn’t and I have to drag out of nowhere some semblance of what it is I want to do. But I do it in the sure and certain knowledge that in whatever form those first draft words appear, they are only the rough blocks of stone to build my stories. Later, they must be honed into a more pleasing shape and sound, one that might be ready to go out and face the world, without someone wanting to batter me with my own plot. I always hope the Muse is around during the sculpting process.
So, with all that in mind, I have a couple of suggestions on how to feed your Muse:
- Let her in early in your day. Have a little peaceful time (I have a friend who uses the bathroom for this, takes ages in there!) where you can be uninterrupted and allow her to visit. If she does, don’t forget to say thank you and if she doesn’t, then maybe she’s busy with me and will pop over to see you later. Don’t worry.
- Try morning pages. ‘I don’t know what to write in here. This is never going to work….’ Well, better it doesn’t work in there than on the screen where you’re hoping to tend to the opus. And magically, it does. It will. Just write. Rubbish, character sketches. Jokes. Grouse and bleed all over the page. Just make sure nobody, no-bod-y, will ever read it but you. This is more personal than any diary.
- Don’t spend all day hunched over the computer, get out and walk. Take your camera or use your phone, but take pictures. Not just pretty landscapes, but pictures. Things that might spark a bit of interest at a later date. Roadworks, people cutting down trees, cows in a field, or an old skip full of rubbish outside of a building site.
- Listen. Listen all the time. Those birds are singing to you, the trees are whispering and all the people around you are giving away their secrets if you will just listen. I’ve often thought that I should have been a hairdresser. People, well women anyway, tell their hairdressers all sorts of stuff. I did a favour for a friend once. The lady that washed hair in his salon had fallen down the stairs and hurt her back, so would I like to help out by going in to take her place for a few days? Would I ever? I did it for two weeks and it was great fun and I learned so much. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent. I half-drowned a few people, but they were all very kind and I had a hilarious time.
- Watch people. People en masse if you must, but also individuals. They can be quite funny. I’ve probably told you before about the lady in the supermarket queue who half filled each of her carrier bags and tied the top of every single one into a little bow before putting it into her trolley. The guy on the cash desk was so embarrassed. I stood in the queue behind her (everybody else moved away), quietly laughing and deciding that her wonderfully obsessive behaviour was going to turn up in a book. It hasn’t so far, but she’s appeared in this blog a couple of times.
- Allow the Muse to stay around for the revision and editing period. Don’t dismiss her. She may come up with better ideas, a better order of events, so you can shuffle things and make a much more interesting book. And she’s bound to sort out some of those grammar, point of view and tense problems for us all. That way, we won’t end up with even more rubbish on Kindle.
- Don’t forget to say Thank you. None of us says thank you enough and if the Muse has been brilliant and given you a great idea or just made you put the full stop on a sentence in a different place, then show some appreciation. She didn’t have to come to you at all. She could have been by my side all day.
So, 7 ideas for you to feed your Muse and just to show I can practice what I preach: for reading this, thank you, and to the Muse for helping me to write it, thanks Muse. You’re brilliant.